Planning on what to wear in Egypt was not easy. In fact, after I got over the initial excitement of booking the trip, clothing was something I spent a long time worrying about. I scoured the internet for helpful tips and advice, but to be honest it just left me even more confused. Some articles indicated I should cover up as much as possible and consider even getting a hijab or at least bring a scarf to cover my hair during my stay. Others said it wasn’t really a big deal, and I could wear pretty much whatever I wanted. In the end I took a more conservative approach and just hoped for the best.
Thankfully, I chose wisely, but not everyone else did. While I wasn’t as covered up as the local women, I was significantly more modest than a few other tourists I came across along the way. Tiny jean shorts, cropped tops, and even some mini-skirts seemed to pop up at all the major temples I visited. I cringed inwardly as I watched these young women walk by, especially as I noticed the looks that they received from the Egyptians; both men and women.
Curious, I ended up asking my favourite tour guide, Abdul, how he felt as a local man to see women dressing provocatively.
“Honestly?” he told me, “Sure, go ahead. We don’t get to see that so it’s nice to look”. I had to laugh a little with him about that. After spending five days in his company and seeing him interact with both local women and tourists, I knew Abdul was a good one. He was kind, respectful, and not at all threatening. Despite passing several scantily dressed women, he never leered or lingered; he was a gentleman. However, he did admit that some women took it too far and that bothered him, especially at the ancient temples which, while no longer used for religion, are still sacred sites.
While Abdul may have been more progressive in his thoughts, not everyone was. In Cairo my brother and I had coffee with a couple of local men, one of which was quick to share his distaste for local women embracing more modern styles. He sneered as he spoke about them wearing jeans and makeup, unhappily claiming that Egypt has changed too much in the past five years. I have to admit, his anger made me uncomfortable, and if he was that put off by the local women in Cairo wearing eyeliner and jeans, I can’t imagine how he would treat the women dressed in more revealing outfits.
Needless to say, I felt good about choosing to go with a more conservative wardrobe for my visit. I didn’t end up covering my hair, but I never felt uncomfortable and even had a few positive comments from locals on my outfits. So, for any other women looking for inspiration on what to wear in Egypt to feel both comfortable and respectful, here’s what I recommend.
What to Wear in Egypt: T-Shirts over Tank Tops
Egypt can be really hot, especially as you go further south to places like Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel. These places, however, are even more traditional than Cairo so skip the tank tops and wear a light t-shirt instead. It doesn’t need to be long sleeved, just make sure your shoulders are covered and that it’s not low cut; cleavage is a big no-no. ( My favourite travel t-shirt is the evolve top by encircled which washes and wears amazingly and can be styled in different ways.)
If you do wear a tank top (not going to lie, I brought two with me) wear something over it. A light sweater will do the trick (though it’s probably cooler just to wear the t-shirt, trust me) or a gauzy wrap to keep your shoulders covered.
One of my favourite tops for this trip was the Butterfly Wrap by Diane Kroe in the chiffon material. It was loose, light, and airy and kept me cool while exploring ruins in the hot summer sun. It also worked perfectly when I hit the beach in Dahab as a cover-up.
*Save $10 off your Diane Kroe order with promo code HANNAH10
What to Wear in Egypt: Sundresses with Leggings or Maxi Dresses
Sundresses are pretty common on women’s packing list, and there’s no reason why you can’t bring your favourite cute dress with you to Egypt; as long as you make it appropriate. Again, remember that your knees, shoulders, and chest need to be covered. This might mean wearing a light pair of leggings under your dress or adding a lightweight sweater or scarf to cover your shoulders.
I got a ton of compliments on my Marie Dress (jet set print) from Cherry Velvet. The zipped front meant I could have a higher neckline and the t-shirt style meant my shoulders were covered. I just wore a pair of black leggings underneath and voila! I was comfortable, cool, and appropriately covered. I even got a couple compliments from Egyptian women about how much they loved my outfit.
Maxi dresses and skirts are a good idea too, and may be cooler than pairing shorter dresses with leggings. Look for styles with ankle-length skirts and t-shirt type tops to be appropriately covered (something like this one). You could also do maxi skirts like this or, if you want something dressier (especially if you plan on taking a lot of photos) you might like something long and flowy like this one.
Bonus tip: Egypt can be quite breezy, especially out in the desert so be careful about shorter flowy skirts and dresses. Even mine blew up a few times making me extra grateful for my leggings underneath.
What to Wear in Egypt: Loose Pants
When it came to bottoms, I alternated between two pairs of loose pants. One of which was the baggy elephant style pant that’s so popular in Southeast Asia, the other just a wide leg black pant. Again, they were light and airy, didn’t hug my curves, and were super comfortable. If you don’t have a pair, you can order some elephant style ones online here or some wide-leg pants here.
I should also point out that neither quite covered my ankles (hooray for being tall) but that was never an issue. A couple times I even hiked the elephant pants, which had elasticized hems, up to just under my knees to make them more of a capri style; still not an issue. I think as long as your knees are covered and the focus isn’t on your booty, you will be fine.
What to Wear in Egypt: Jeans
Since we spent a day exploring Toronto before flying to Egypt, I did end up bringing a pair of jeans with me. Though, to be honest, I didn’t expect I would wear them; assuming they would be too tight and show off my ‘assets’ too much to be considered appropriate. However, I quickly found out that jeans, even skinny jeans, are ok in Egypt; so long as you have a longer top to pair with them, like this one. Many of the young local girls paired their skinny jeans with longer sleeved tunic-type tops that covered their bums similar to this one. I made sure to follow in their lead, pairing my jeans with longer, loose tops, and felt totally comfortable walking around. That being said, I saved them for the evening when it was cooler because it was way too hot for me to even consider jeans during the day.
Should Women Cover Their Hair?
This was another question I really worried about but the answer is no. Female visitors are not expected to cover their hair. That being said, if you want to, you can. Just make sure to do it in a respectful way, not just to be fashionable.
Personally, I chose not to cover my hair in Egypt and had no major issues. After all, hiding my light hair isn’t going to camouflage the fact that I am clearly a tourist. I did make sure to keep my hair up though either in a ponytail, bun, or braid rather than wearing it down. Might be just me, but I thought that was a little more respectful.
I do want to mention that I did meet a couple women who were very blonde which got them a lot of extra attention to the point where a few people just reached out to touch their hair. If this is the case, you may want to cover your hair for your own comfort.
What to Wear in Egypt: Helpful Accessories
While not necessary, I do recommend a couple of these accessories as well to make travelling through Egypt a bit easier and to make you feel a little more comfortable and conservative in your dress.
- Lightweight travel scarf with pocket– covers cleavage/shoulders + good for storing some money etc. Especially great for travel days.
- Rashguard– if you are going to be hitting up Egypt’s beaches, rashguards are a great pick to not only help ward off the sun (nobody wants to burn on vacation!) but also to cover up a bit more.
- Reef safe Sunscreen: Egypt has some gorgeous coral reefs so if you plan on being in the water please use a reef safe sunscreen to help protect the reefs and marine life.
- Breathable socks: Because sweaty feet are gross
- Anti-chafing balm: For those of us who suffer from the dreaded chub rub!
- Bust-dust: Bye-bye boob sweat!
What to Wear in Egypt: Final Considerations
Having travelled to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, and Dahab, I felt like the clothing differed in each area, and what I wore depended on what I was doing. Being with a tour guide at the temples, filled with other tourists, was a bit less stressful than walking around local streets and neighbourhoods. I felt more conscious of being covered up during these times and though I didn’t bring any really tight clothing, I chose the loosest of my tops for the times I spent exploring the cities.
Dahab; a laid-back beach town on the Red Sea, was by far the most liberal when it came to deciding what to wear. Since I went for scuba diving, I always had a swimsuit on but I wouldn’t dream about walking around in that alone, and nor did anyone else. That being said I, and many others, wore shorts and tank tops over their swimwear while going to the beach, or walking along the main areas. While at the beach, bikinis were fine; though I did notice many women throwing a sundress or cover-up on over them once out of the water. Perhaps not necessary, but definitely a more comfortable option.
Finally, I feel like it’s important to note that I did travel with a man. I’ve heard mixed reviews on solo female travel in Egypt and while I had an amazing time, I know the fact that I had my brother with me did play a role. However, at the end of the day, whether you are travelling alone, with a man, or with other women, the most important thing to remember is to be respectful the local culture and mindful of your own personal comfort level when considering what to wear in Egypt.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Egypt
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.